No Christian is immune to the pulls of anxiety, but no Christian needs to be held captive by those pulls either. In this installment, we’ll explore ways God’s people can fight back.
Anxiety is an ugly, vicious beast that excels at dragging its victims into a headlong, emotionally exhausting spiral, straining their relationships with others and leaving them burned-out. It’s a weapon that Satan employs to keep us both stressed and distracted. And it’s a foe every Christian has to learn to battle with on the path to the Kingdom of God.
One passage in the Bible seems to make it sound so easy. Paul told the Philippians, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).
Be anxious for nothing.
Simple as that. If you’re feeling anxious about something, well … don’t. Just stop.
Appreciating the complexity of anxiety
Except if you’ve ever wrestled with any kind of anxiety, you know it’s not that simple. It’s not just some kind of switch that you can turn off at will, no matter how much you might want to. Paul wasn’t telling the Philippians to “just stop being anxious.” Anxiety isn’t that simple, and we do ourselves a disservice if we treat it that way.
In actuality, anxiety can take many forms. For some people, it’s just a general sense of unease or fear. But for others, it can manifest itself as everything from obsessive-compulsive disorder to panic attacks to social phobias. These aren’t things anyone can “just stop” at the drop of a hat. They’re obstacles that many people have wrestled with for years without gaining a definitive upper hand.
In this issue, we’re not going to “solve” anxiety or discover some kind of one-size-fits-all panacea. What we’re going to do instead is explore a handful of methods you can use to combat anxiety in your own life by drawing on the tools and promises given to us by God.
What anxiety means
But first, let’s get something straight:
Anxiety does not mean you have failed as a Christian.
Anxiety does not mean that God has abandoned you or that you are somehow less than those who don’t seem to struggle with it as much.
Anxiety means that situations in your life are causing you distress—perhaps health issues, financial challenges or relationship problems—and you’re having trouble processing them. That’s all. You are still a child of God. You are still loved by the Creator of the universe.Anxiety means that situations in your life are causing you distress—perhaps health issues, financial challenges or relationship problems—and you’re having trouble processing them. That’s all. You are still a child of God. You are still loved by the Creator of the universe. He still wants to help you get a handle on this.
That’s what it means, and that’s where we’re going to start.
A promise of peace
Let’s circle back to Paul’s words for a minute. “Be anxious for nothing” isn’t a flippant command to just switch off our feelings. It’s an invitation to do something different with them. Peter says, “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7).
Together, these verses are a promise. No matter how much stress and anxiety we’re facing, peace is within our grasp. That’s not because of our own strength, but because of the mighty hand of God. The hand that shaped the cosmos is extended toward you, waiting for you to hand over the cares and anxieties that are eating away at you.
The more we learn to do that—the more we entrust our worries and concerns to God—the more we will find our hearts and minds guarded by the peace “which surpasses all understanding.”
That’s a promise. Not an outside possibility, not a likelihood, but an absolute, irrevocable promise from our Father in heaven.
Making a habit of giving our worries to God
Of course, if turning our worries over to God is not something we’re used to doing, it’s not a habit we can form overnight—and it does have to become a habit. We can’t leave our cares with God overnight and then take them back the next morning. When we take our worries to God, we have to learn to leave them with Him and trust Him with them.
One tactic that can help is learning to distinguish between what you’re capable of doing to help the situation and what you’re not capable of doing. Figure out what you’re powerless to change and take those things to the God who is far from powerless.
Then get to work on the things you can do something about. Focus on the change you can actually effect, knowing that God, in His infinite wisdom and power, is handling the things you can’t. “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).
Not just some things. All things. Even the things that aren’t working out the way we want or expect. God is actively working out all things for good, and that’s something He’s far more equipped to do than we are.
What we can do about anxiety
How we tackle our share of the to-do list can make a difference too. Imagine your goals as a pie. It would be reckless and unhealthy to eat the whole thing at once. You’d only end up feeling overwhelmed and useless. Instead, break those big, intimidating goals into manageable slices. Aim to eat a reasonably sized piece in a reasonable amount of time, and don’t push yourself beyond your capabilities.
Another tactic is to sit down and share your anxieties with a trusted friend who’s good at listening. But go one step further. With your friend’s help, try to work out which of your anxieties are most likely and least likely to actually happen.
As U.S. President Calvin Coolidge once remarked, “If you see ten troubles coming down the road, you can be sure that nine will run into the ditch before they reach you and you have to battle with only one of them.”
Knowing the probability of potential issues can change how we feel about them.
What to remember
Again, this is just a starting point. Another thing to keep in mind is that some kinds of anxiety are going to be easier to tackle with professional help. Science and medicine can’t replace God, but they’re certainly not mutually exclusive from God, either. Professional counselors can be a helpful tool.
However you battle with anxiety, the most important truths to remember are:
- God promises us a peace that surpasses understanding. That peace is attainable. We can win this battle.
- You aren’t alone. In the Church Jesus is building, you have brothers and sisters fighting the same battles, and an even greater number willing to lend you strength and support.
- And no matter how long the fight takes, anxiety doesn’t mean you’re a failure as a Christian. It just means that, like the rest of us, you’re a Christian in progress.
For more resources on anxiety, read our blog post “Dealing With Anxiety.”
Note: Thanks to the many ministers with years of counseling experience who gave their input!